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10.21-CABINESSENCE (Beach Boys)

Beach Boys

LISTEN

Light the lamp and fire mellow.
Cabin essence timely hello
Welcomes the time for a change.

Lost and found, you still remain there.
You'll find a meadow filled with grain there.
I'll give you a home on the range.

     Who ran the iron horse? (10x)

I want to watch you windblown facing
Waves of wheat for your embracing.
Folks sing a song of the grange.

Nestle in a kiss below there.
The constellations ebb and flow there
And witness our home on the range.

     [Refrain(10x)]

          Have you seen the grand coolie working on the railroad? (3x)

               Over and over,
               The crow cries uncover the cornfield.
               Over and over,
               The thresher and hover the wheat field.
(2x)

               Over and over,
               The crow cries uncover the cornfield…


After Brian Wilson shelved the SMiLE project in mid-1967, the Beach Boys became one of the first retro-groups, and returned to the sound of “surf music” that Jimi Hendrix (in the August 1967 Experience song Third Stone from the Sun) had seemed to imply we would never hear again. During the Summer of Love, the revival of “surf music” seemed as unlikely as the Beatles returning to the simplicity of I Want to Hold Your Hand. (In fact, the Beatles’ All You Need is Love had made this point, by quoting She Love You, showing how far the Beatles had developed within a space of three years.) Made contrite by the failure of the SMiLE project, Brian Wilson again produced music the Beach Boys were comfortable with. Among the songs that followed Heroes and Villains, there followed on the radio Darlin’ in 1967, Do It Again in 1968, and I Can Hear Music from the 20/20 album released in 1969. Ironically, none of these retro-singles did as well on the American charts as the psychedelic Heroes and Villains. The majority of their fans seemed to think that the Beach Boys had made themselves irrelevant, out of touch. Maybe this is why Brian Wilson agreed to release a couple of the SMiLE cuts (Our Prayer and Cabinessence) on the 20/20 album. Cabinessence had been the very song that Mike Love had used to protest against Van Dyke Parks lyrics and scuttle the SMiLE project.

Though the 20/20 album didn’t perform particularly well in the U.S., Cabinessence was obviously something from the psychedelic Beach Boys period, and was embraced by many critics and listeners as evidence of Brian Wilson’s continuing “genius” (despite much simple “surf music” to the contrary in recent albums). The lyrics were baffling to the listener, but given the complex and atmospheric architecture of the work, Van Dyke Parks’ puns seemed beside the point. Who cares if the “coolies” of the 19th Century who worked on the railroad conflate with Grand Coulee Dam of the 20th Century? Or that by shuffling verbs in the final D section (so that the crows “hover” and the thresher “uncovers”), the meaning becomes a bit clearer? What seems to matter more are the folkways suggested through the “Home on the Range” A section’s banjo and harmonica, the repeated “Iron Horse” B section that evoked driving rail road spikes accompanied by chromatic harmonies (with muffled commentary occasionally within hearing), the baroque “Coolie” C section, and the sprawling western plains heard in the “Crow” D section driven by fuzz bass guitar and accompanied by an oriental sounding lute called a bouzouki. The assemblage of four distinct melodies resolves itself through use of a waltz across various unique soundscapes, effectively building impressions of a complex Americana though music as well as through lyrical connections.

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